Chad Lawson's self-released 'Chopin Variations' proves that, for many listeners, genre is no longer important
‘Classical music for the Spotify generation’ I told someone the other day. It rolled off the tongue during conversation but the thought stayed with me long after. ‘There is a whole generation completely unaware of who the great classical composers are.’ I continued. ‘They never took piano lessons as a child. Perhaps haven’t grown up in a house where mum or dad played the piano. Or if there is a piano in the house, how do they turn it on? How does it work?!’
In 2014 I released ‘The Chopin Variations: Modern Interpretations on Chopin Works’. The plan was simple; introduce Chopin to people that have never heard of him before. Bring Chopin to them, not the other way around. Along with violinist Judy Kang (Lady Gaga, Ryuichi Sakamoto) and cellist Rubin Kodheli (Meredith Monk, Kanye West, Norah Jones), we set out to present Chopin in a modern day landscape with an even greater purpose in mind; to get listeners interested.
It worked. It really, really worked. The album topped US’s Billboard Classical chart at No 1, twice at iTunes Classical No 1 and even No 1 in all genres at Amazon, outselling Taylor Swift for the day (I think she took that day off...) And while charts and numbers proved my reasoning, it was the outpouring of emails after that meant the most. ‘I’ve never listened to Chopin before but after hearing this I want to hear the original pieces now,’ wrote one listener. Another email said: ‘this album brought back memories of my father playing the piano downstairs late at night while my sisters and I were going to bed.’ Endless, endless emails. A renewed interest in music, some even enrolling their children for piano lessons. What could have easily been looked upon as ‘heresy’ had suddenly turned into enchantment.
Now, back to streaming services. None of this would have been possible without streaming. Period. Whether it’s Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora or the vast pool of other streaming services, this is a different time not only for listeners but for the creators as well.
As a listener, the landscape of this digital age conveniently presents artists big and small at the swipe of the smartphone. As an artist, I am no longer dependent on major labels or distributors to have my music heard. Piece by piece, the middleman is not being merely replaced but erased completely. As an independent artist I find myself on streaming playlists next to musicians such as Bon Iver, Agnes Obel and Max Richter. The platform of accessibility has changed. Even the relevance of genre is becoming out-of-date with the wealth of crossover artists and styles. Hear a song you didn’t care for? Thumbs down and move on without a second thought. You hear something you like? Give it a thumbs up and add it to a favorite playlist. Did you even stop to question what ‘genre’ or ‘label’ that artist was on? Probably not. You liked what you heard and that’s all that mattered. The person behind you in line for coffee is humming along to Adele because she likes Adele, not because she knows what ‘genre’ Adele has been relegated to.
Duke Ellington said ‘There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.’ Now more than ever we have the ability to decide what we choose to listen to with ease.
Chad Lawson will embark on a European tour from September 15, appearing in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and the UK. He appears at The Forge in London on September 29. For more information, visit: chadlawson.com